Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar has teamed up with smartphone movie app Flixster in a bid to lure moviegoers to add dinner nearby to their movie plans.

Applebee’s, the 2,000-unit casual-dining division of DineEquity Inc., on July 1 added a “Find Applebee’s Nearby” button in the popular Flixster movie-discovery application that comes up when a user searches for a theater location.

When users click on the Applebee’s “Find” button, it takes them to a page that features the chain’s new “Take Two Menu,” and another button that transports them to Google Maps and the nearest Applebee’s location to the theater they have selected.

Applebee’s is also sponsoring the affiliated Rotten Tomatoes website’s ‘Certified Fresh Picks” top-rate movie section. Flixster bought Rotten Tomatoes in 2010 and both were acquired by Hollywood studio Warner Bros. in 2011.

“The natural tie for us is that obviously during the summer months we’re really highlighting seasonal, fresh ingredients,” said Applebee’s spokesman Dan Smith, citing in an interview the grilled Vidalia onion sirloin. Both movie-related promotions will continue through July 31, Smith said.

“The strategy behind the mobile app,” Smith explained, “is to tap into the natural tendency when you look for movie titles or decide which movie you are going to see, part of that occasion is dining out before or after the movie.
The Flixster ‘Find Applebee’s Nearby’ button sends the user to the Applebee’s locator, which is part of the company’s online-ordering system. “The online ordering function is now active in more than half of our restaurants nationwide,” Smith said. The company uses the Where 2 Get It platform for the geo-location piece of its app, he said.

A Nation’s Restaurant News test of the locator found it worked in New York and Dallas, but it did not find locations in Chicago or Los Angeles.

“Mobile advertising and occasion-based marketing are certainly things we are interested in as digital and mobile platforms increase in popularity,” Smith said.


Partnership benefits consumers

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One consultant said the Flixster-Applebee’s partnership provides benefits to the brand.

“Restaurants have been on social apps [and social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram], but this is like the idea of a co-brand,” said Mike Lukianoff, chief executive of New York City-based consultancy Czar Metrics. “I haven’t seen this before.” The idea, Lukianoff added, “makes it easier to plan a dinner and a movie.”

“I could see where this makes sense, much like an advertisement,” he added.

Lukianoff said that for a geo-located app to be especially effective, it might offer reservations priority or dollars off a specific item. The Applebee’s-Flixster partnership does not currently offer those types of incentives.

“If they could get on a cue or take reservations,” he said, “it would be a clear guest-capture strategy.”

Lukianoff said the future for restaurants in teaming with apps offers potential for data collection and would enable brands to know their guests tastes individually.

“It is likely to give them more information on the customers, such as what movies they are actually looking for,” he said. “You can understand psychographic positions to help you market better.”

“If they use it properly, it will allow them to measure things and to target guests much, much more specifically than they ever have been able to before,” Lukianoff added. “It’s great when you can reach people where and when they need something.”

He said he foresees the day when restaurant consumers can be targeted the way pioneer Internet marketplace Amazon targets its customers.

Amazon can get customers to reveal a lot of information about themselves, Lukianoff said. “They are able to make suggestions on what else they might actually be interested in. It doesn’t feel like they are scamming you.”

Some foodservice brands are “geo-fencing,” or alerting customers when they are near a store. Starbucks’ app does that, but they have to be careful, Lukianoff said.

 “If restaurants don’t use it to be very specific and do the upfront work on understanding what is going to appeal to each customer and when, then it’s just going to seem like massive spam that is going to make email spam look miniscule,” he said.

The Starbucks app, for example, will alert users when they are near units they have identified as being favorites.

“If our smartphones beep off the hook every time we pass a restaurant, which is pretty frequent, we’re not going to be pleased,” Lukianoff said. “It’s important that the message that goes out through these devices is much more personal and tailored.”

Applebee's International Inc., based in Kansas City, Mo., has restaurants in 49 states, 16 countries and one U.S. territory.

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